Archbishop Paglia speaks to Catholic Voices Academy

Catholic Voices members and friends gathered in London on Tuesday 13th February to listen to Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia speak about ‘The Proclamation of Life in a Missionary Perspective’. As President for the Pontifical Academy for Life and Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences his words came with authority and experience.

Beginning with first few lines from the First Letter of St. John he said the whole of life has been definitively transformed by Jesus, Son of God, taking flesh and being born of a woman. Through his death and resurrection Jesus raised all of humanity to a heavenly level. His invitation is to follow the Gospel message and especially the new commandment’ to ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ (John 13:34). By doing what Jesus did with the same level of tenderness and passionate love, we bring the Word of Life to others. The Church is not an elite group but a place where we can humbly come face to face with the human condition and bring the love of God. We must be careful not destroy the Gospel of Jesus and dampen the ‘fire of the Spirit’.

Archbishop Paglia presented a slide depicting a painting of the Resurrection by Pierro della Francesca from 1460. The artist painted the scene in a ‘geometric fashion’ to highlight the timelessness of the Resurrection.  Christ is portrayed like a Greek statue wearing a rose coloured toga and not a shroud and at the energetic moment of Resurrection. The sleeping soldiers at his feet are unaware of the moment or the significance of the event.

Those of us who know the Gospel of the Resurrection are called to wake up those who are deadened by the ‘burdens of life’ and share the hope of new life with them. The Resurrection has brought life not death and is to be shared with those who are the least powerful and perfect - ‘it does not abandon children who fail to measure up, it does not sacrifice the elderly when their weakness and ills are no longer profitable’.  The Good News of the Resurrection is that everything and everyone can be taken up into the life of Jesus. The human condition is accepted, loved and resurrected through the wounds of Jesus on the Cross. In the poor and in the Cross we see the presence of God most clearly.

In today’s world we are drawn towards seeing the ‘painful parts of life’ as a “curse”. There are undertones that want to make us turn away from entering in to the ‘weakness of life’. Like the faithful covenant required of a man and a woman in Holy Matrimony vowing ‘for better or worse’ so too is the relationship of human persons called to be. How can a ‘truly human community’ survive if there is no faithfulness to love and friendship and we can ‘get rid of what annoys us’? Sadly, there are ‘perverted ideologies’ that support the means available to get rid of lives that are considered to be worthless. We must have a true understanding of our mortality and a ‘love for the spiritual dignity of every person’. This will lead us to take care of every person from conception to natural death.

The Magisterium of the Church has spoken clearly on the need for an ‘ethical and transcendent discernment of the personal quality of human life’. If we don’t care about the spread of abortion and eugenic selection then we will be indifferent to the death of children through hunger, persecution or rejection.

A missionary proclamation of life speaks of the Good News of ‘real life, loved and saved’. It does not ‘propose ideas’ but tells the story of Jesus and of ‘every person whose life he touched and loved’.

It is important that we treasure the complexity of life in the face of some ‘extreme forms of gender theory’. The latter part of the 20th century has been characterised by both the ‘rediscovery of the body and sexual liberation’ and paradoxically, ‘a world in which the body has been abolished’.  A world where life and the body have value of their own is being replaced by an emphasis on the value of ideas. Pope Francis speaks about the danger of giving ideas precedence in Evangelii Gaudium (231-233). He says that ‘realities simply are, whereas ideas are worked out’.

Today our societies can be seen as ‘rejecting what is human’ in their resistance to child-bearing.  This unwillingness to create new life cuts people off from a vision of hope and the mercy of God. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a nativity play called Bariona in 1940 while imprisoned in a concentration camp. The play tells the story of a village that decided not to give birth to more children because they lived under oppression. Eventually they had to relent because they became suffocated by their decision. A child that was born brought new hope to their dark world.

The title of this presentation speaks of ‘Proclamation’ rather than ‘Defence’. This is an encouragement to shout out loud and clear about the mystery of life so that all will recognise the presence of the Spirit who is Lord and gives life. We should be an ‘outreach Church’ and not stay locked inside.

The questions being examined about humanity need everyone’s help. This is why Pope Francis has appointed Members of the Pontifical Academy for Life who are not Catholics and some not even Christian. We must welcome difference and look to the richness offered. It is still possible to speak of God in the area of the proclamation of life in a world where he has been pushed to the margins. A quote from the Letters & Papers from Dietrich Bonhoeffer says ‘God wants to be recognised in the midst of our lives’. The proclamation of life is an exercise of mercy which reaches the centre of every life.

The full text of Archbishop Paglia’s address can be found here.

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